Pairing: Jongin/Junmyeon (with side Xiuhan and Chanbaek)
Genre: mild angst, romance, drama, smut, catboy!au, bookshop!au
Length: Chapter 7: Facing Demons, ~3.6k words
Summary: Bookstore owner Junmyeon hires catboy!Jongin as a live-in shop assistant. Junmyeon's wary of intimacy but Jongin is determined to get past his defenses.
Warning: tattoos and substandard smut
So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
"Why are you here, Baekhyun?" Junmyeon's voice was surprisingly strong and full of resolve as he unconsciously drew strength from Jongin beside him. The cat's muscles were tense but he remained quiet like he was waiting for Junmyeon's cue. His palm rubbed soothing circles on Jongin's lower back because he didn't want to have a scene in the bookstore. He'd never seen any show of temper from Jongin in the time they'd lived together. . .but then again, they'd never been in this kind of emotionally charged situation before. Jongin had been cool and rational at the supermarket three days earlier but that had been neutral ground. Cats were often territorial and Junmyeon was pretty sure Jongin considered Gossamer Books his turf.
"I came to see you—what other reason could there be?" Baekhyun was all charming smile and easy confidence.
"Of course you didn't come just to see me. Now, I want to know why you're really here."
"I just want to talk. It's time, don't you think?"
"I'm not sure there's any point. It's been. . .years."
"Closure. Closure is the point." Baekhyun's eyes were undecipherable and his heartbeat signature gave Jongin no clue of his emotional state other than that he was calm. As for Junmyeon, he might have appeared nonchalant but his heart was in fact drumming just a little faster and more erratically than usual and Jongin frowned before he could stop himself.
"How about it?" Baekhyun asked again and Junmyeon finally emitted a sigh that spoke of resignation and reluctance. Still, Jongin could hear the rapid cardiac rhythms and his arm twined around Junmyeon's shoulder, his body shifting deliberately closer.
"There's a coffee shop across the road, I suppose. . .but you're paying." Junmyeon did his best to look and sound dispassionate and mostly succeeded.
"Done." Baekhyun laughed at the caveat, and his laugh was a strident thing that fractured the serenity of the store.
"I'll meet you there in a few minutes. Some things I need to finish up here first."
"See you in a few minutes then. Jongin, I'll see you around." Baekhyun's tone was perfectly pleasant but his eyes held no warmth. When the door had shut behind him, Junmyeon asked Jongin to join him in his office. Once they were in the locked safety of Junmyeon's work area and away from prying eyes, Junmyeon sighed and allowed himself to sink into the sanctuary of Jongin's arms.
"Junmyeon, let me go with you." Jongin's palm curled around his lover's nape and it was a hot, comforting weight against Junmyeon's skin, bolstering his flagging confidence.
"You know it's something I need to do on my own." Junmyeon's lips grazed the edges of Jongin's chiseled jawline.
"Are you sure you want to go alone?"
"If I said yes, you'd know I was lying. You can hear my heart racing, can't you?" Junmyeon asked and Jongin nodded. "But no matter how anxious I am, it's still something I need to get done. Just me."
"I know. . .It's your greasy ex I don't trust." Jongin sounded almost disgruntled.
"Jongin, are you jealous?" Junmyeon smiled, his heart stuttering with pleasure.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Jongin's fingers stroked his pale, pale cheek and Junmyeon's eyes closed languidly as he reveled in the delicious trails of sensation left on his skin.
"Distract me so I'll forget to be nervous," Junmyeon said and in the space of a heartbeat, Jongin was kissing Junmyeon hungrily—his arms reaching around him, pulling him close. And Jongin's kiss was a lingering tattoo of desperation, devotion and desire that made Junmyeon forget everything for just a little while.
"If you need me," Jongin said in hushed tones as they stood at the main entrance of the store.
"I know Jongin, I'll call if I do," Junmyeon smiled reassuringly at him and his fingertips brushed Jongin's hand in a clandestine gesture only the two of them could see. Then Junmyeon was jogging across the street, the rays of late afternoon sunshine glinting in his glossy black hair. When he reached the other side, he turned to face Jongin who was still standing at the door.
"I'll see you soon, Jongin," Junmyeon said, his eyes intense, and the words echoed in Jongin's ears as if Junmyeon had been standing right beside him. It took all of Jongin's willpower to suppress his feline instincts to go after him and drag him back to the store. It went against his need to protect but he knew Junmyeon had to get through this alone or the uncertainty would always be a splinter deep beneath his skin, embedded in his heart—not visible to the eye but wounding him anyway. His chest tightening with worry, Jongin began making his way back to the stockroom to resume his interrupted work.
"Jongin, hold up!" Xiumin called out to him and Jongin halted his progress, waiting for Xiumin to walk over. There were a handful of customers in the store so Xiumin kept his voice low.
"So you and Junmyeon . . . You guys hooked up huh?"
"I think so? I'm not sure he's decided yet."
"I guess that's the mysterious ex?"
"Was it that obvious?" Jongin raised a concerned eyebrow.
"Junmyeon never receives personal visitors here, especially ones that 'need to talk'" Xiumin snorts, "and the dude using the word 'closure'? That's like writing 'I AM THE EX' on his forehead in flashing neon lights."
"Well, when you put it like that," Jongin chuckled.
"I don't think I need to give you the 'hurt Junmyeon and I'll crush your fucking nuts' talk, am I right?" Xiumin's face was etched in a grin but there was no mistaking the potential menace in his words.
"No, no you don't have to. I'm . . . committed to this. Cats are kind of different from humans. We don't commit the same way." Jongin dragged a hand pensively through his silver hair.
"It's a lifetime thing, I heard?" Xiumin slid a hand into his back pocket as he waited for Jongin's answer.
"Yeah, it is."
"And Junmyeon is your lifetime thing?"
"I want him to be. But I won't force him. It has to be something he wants too." Jongin's smile was slightly wistful and Xiumin patted his shoulder awkwardly.
"For what it's worth, I hope he chooses to keep you, because dude, you are good for business! The number of women's fiction and medieval romance novels we've sold since you joined us? We could have a really fat bonus come Christmas!" And just like that, Xiumin's joking words dispelled the clouds of tension that had been clinging to Jongin since Junmyeon left the store.
Junmyeon had always liked Café Le Chat—there was just something about the worn-in, overstuffed chairs, sofas and low tables in the far corner, and the elegant sycamore cushioned chairs and tables in the main seating area. In keeping with the name of the café (The Cat in French), paintings of cats adorned the walls while assorted wooden, clay and porcelain cat figurines had been artistically placed on flat surfaces around the café.
Jongin had laughed in delight the first time he'd come here with Junmyeon. They'd just been platonic and ever so slightly awkward co-workers and roommates then, and even then Junmyeon had been deeply drawn to the rich sound of Jongin's laughter and the way his eyes crinkled in mirth. He'd grinned and asked Junmyeon, “Do you think they'll give me a discount on my coffee if I'm a cat?” And Junmyeon had laughed and said he'd pay for Jongin's coffee so he could have a 100% discount. And Jongin had chuckled even though it had been such a ridiculously cheesy thing to say. Jongin always laughed when Junmyeon was trying to be amusing—even though he failed at humor most of the time.
The whole place was done in earth tones—eggshell beige, mango yellow, burnt orange and milky brown. Le Chat usually had a welcoming vibe for Junmyeon but today all that ambience was wasted on him. For all his bravado in the store, he was apprehensive about the conversation he was about to have with his former lover. His eyes scanned the tables and located Baekhyun sitting on a brown fabric armchair by the plate glass window. Cell phone in hand, his thumbs danced adroitly across the keypad and a small smile played on the corners of his mouth. He had always spent a lot of his time on the phone when they'd lived together—talking, texting, surfing—whereas Junmyeon hadn't been inclined to touch his phone except when it couldn't be avoided. They were poles apart in so many aspects—this had just been one of the many.
Putting things off wouldn't get him anywhere so Junmyeon walked over to the window and sat resolutely on the armchair directly across from Baekhyun's.
"You got everything sorted out, I hope?" Baekhyun placed his phone carelessly on honey colored wood and looked up at Junmyeon.
"Yes, yes I did," Junmyeon answered distractedly as the thin, gangly waiter named Walter appeared with a menu.
"Would you like to order some food to go with your café au lait, Junmyeon? Or would you like a café Calva today?" Junmyeon was a creature of habit who frequented this place a few times a week so all the regular waiters knew he always ordered the au lait or the Calva. But he didn't think that much caffeine was a good idea with him being so jumpy so he ordered a French cinnamon tea instead. Once he'd confirmed with the waiter that he wouldn't be having any edibles (the mere thought of eating anything right now made him utterly nauseous), he finally turned his attention to Baekhyun, whose fingers were tapping rhythmically on the table. He was practically buzzing with ill-concealed impatience. He'd never liked waiting for anything or anyone.
"I presume you're here because we saw each other at the supermarket that night?" Junmyeon started the conversational ball rolling because he didn't plan on spending more time here than absolutely necessary.
"Why so cynical? I was just thinking it was good seeing you again and maybe we should finally clear the air." Baekhyun took a sip of his black coffee.
"Are you here to cause trouble, Baek? Don't you think you've messed enough with me?" Junmyeon's tone was matter-of-fact despite his very real state of agitation.
"Why would you think that?" There was a look of what seemed like feigned surprise on Baekhyun's handsome, expressive face.
"We haven't spoken in three years, you bump into Jongin and me and suddenly you show up at my bookstore because you want to talk? The timing is just . . . what else am I supposed to think?"
"You're right. I could have contacted you any time in the last three years but it would have been really, I don't know, random and awkward? The fact that we met the other night made this less, well . . . weird."
"You left me a note when you packed up and left. You wanting to talk would have made more sense to me three years ago—not now when so much time has passed. What makes you think I want to rehash all the pain again?"
"I truly believed you wouldn't be very cut up over my leaving. I mean I'm not proud of the way I left, Junmyeon, but I had my reasons."
"I'd like to hear them."
"You were so apathetic about everything. About us." Baekhyun explained and his voice was subdued all of a sudden—uncharacteristically so.
"I was just giving you space to do your own thing. I didn't want you to feel confined. You were such a free spirit, Baek. We just weren't . . . compatible. We were moved by different things—I'm sure we still are. I was afraid of losing you then so I tried not to hold you back. The irony was you left anyway," Junmyeon said quietly and he was glad his voice held no traces of bitterness, because he didn't in fact feel any more anger towards Baekhyun. Finally.
"I thought you didn't care—that's why I kept trying to get a rise out of you. Some signs of jealousy, anything. But you said nothing. Always nothing. Chanyeol and I . . . We didn't happen straight away, you know. No matter what you may think. But you were so self sufficient; you didn't seem to need me at all. Chanyeol and I, we understand each other. We had things in common and I guess we just drifted together—if that makes any sense."
"I think I understand. But we were in a relationship?" Junmyeon reminded him as he took a sip of the cinnamon tea Walter had brought him earlier.
"I know that but it was like you'd checked out or something. You were always so caught up in your books and you didn't want to go out with me and my friends."
"Social situations have never been easy for me, Baekhyun. I was always upfront about that."
"I thought you were exaggerating."
"You could have made more effort to go out with my friends and me once in a while." Baekhyun insisted.
"But I did. At first I did . . . You guys were into football and working out and there's nothing wrong with that but I couldn't relate to the conversations; I had nothing to contribute. And I'm not the kind to talk much as it is. It was painful for me and I didn't want to make things complicated for you so I thought it was best if I just stayed at home. I preferred it. I needed the space too. You were so energetic and always wanting to go places and do stuff—it was exhausting for someone as reclusive as me."
"I . . . why didn't you just tell me all that?" Baekhyun dragged his hand through his inky black hair in frustration.
"I didn't know how. I've never been good at that kind of thing. Plus you would have gotten mad that I was trying to guilt trip you into staying home."
"I wouldn't have!" He protested.
"But you did. You did it more than once so I just shut up after that."
Junmyeon sighed and cited two occasions where Baekhyun had done exactly that and once he'd been reminded of them, he actually had the decency to look embarrassed. The impetuous Byun Baekhyun of three years past would never have backed down but it seemed life had changed him. Or perhaps Chanyeol had, Junmyeon thought.
"Anyway, I think we've established that we were—are better off without each other. Let's just leave it at that," Junmyeon said and tried not to cringe at how horribly clichéd this whole conversation had turned out being.
"Yes, I think we've done a good job of making that clear. There's just this one last thing. About the fucked up way I left, I think a big part of me wanted to punish you for not caring enough to get upset or confront me and that's why I left the way I did. Chanyeol wasn't happy about it. He said I was an asshole for not even discussing things with you—gave me shit about it for weeks. He made me see you today." Baekhyun gave a nervous laugh—well as nervous as Baekhyun could be considering he'd never been the nervous type.
"You were an asshole."
"Yeah, I guess I was."
"But I guess I contributed too. I should have said something when you started talking about Chanyeol. I should have fought more for us; I shouldn't just have endured in silence. I think deep down, I knew we weren't right for each other and that's why I just let things drift. I was upset for a long time but let's be real, we totally sucked as a unit," Junmyeon said with a wry smile and Baekhyun gave a bark of laughter.
"Yeah, we did suck. So the cat, are things serious?"
"None of your business," Junmyeon's voice was amused but unyielding.
"So, are we cool? Friends?" Baekhyun's charming smile was back in place. It was a smile which had made Junmyeon's chest feel warm and buzzy when he'd been younger, but now only a lazy, crinkle eyed feline smile would move him.
"Being friends would be pushing it, Baek. But I'm glad we sorted things out. And I'll probably say hello the next time we bump into each other, but . . . I won't ask you to join me for a coffee."
"That's . . . fair."
It was quarter past six when Junmyeon shook hands with Baekhyun in front of Café Le Chat. He'd spent so many years feeling screwed over by him that it was odd to suddenly feel no animosity towards Baekhyun. It was liberating to know that they were just two people who had been hopelessly wrong for each other. And now that he had Jongin, he could see just how badly mismatched they'd been. A small piece of him would always think of Baekhyun as a prick for cheating on him and walking out on him in the shittiest way possible—but it wasn't something that had the power to hurt him anymore.
All he wanted now was to go home. He had a bone deep need to see Jongin, to feel the velvety fur of his ears between his fingertips, and to feel Jongin's beautiful tail wrapped around the small of his back. He just needed Jongin, he thought as he crossed the street impatiently. Gossamer Books was open till 6 pm daily so Junmyeon knew the front door would be locked by now. Going behind the building, he let himself in through the back entrance—wandering if Jongin had gone up to the apartment already.
"Jongin?" He called out tentatively when he saw that the store lights were still on.
"I'm here, Junmyeon." He heard the deep caramel voice first, then Jongin stood up—suddenly visible behind the shelves where Magical Realist novels were stacked and Junmyeon walked over to where he was. He knew Jongin could hear how fast his heart was racing but Junmyeon didn't care at all if Jongin knew how excited he was to see him.
"What were you doing?" He stopped in front of Jongin.
"Waiting for you," Jongin answered but he wasn't smiling as he asked, "How did it go?"
"It went quite well, actually, but I don't want to talk about that now. What were you doing while you were waiting for me?"
"Trying to read Paulo Coelho's Eleven Minutes, but I couldn't concentrate. I was worried. . .” Jongin moved just enough so that his forehead touched Junmyeon's.
"There's nothing to worry about now, Jongin. Everything's good, it really is." Junmyeon's fingers slid under Jongin's collar, and curled around his bare shoulder. Jongin leaned into his touch before stretching out his right hand and placing it directly over Junmyeon's restless heart.
"It's beating so fast."
"It's just glad you're here. It missed you." Junmyeon took another step forward and now their chests were touching. Then it was their lips that were touching as Junmyeon captured Jongin's mouth with his own and they shared a sweet kiss that tasted of the future, a kiss that tasted like a promise.
"Did you miss me too?" Jongin asked, his lips brushing against Junmyeon's forehead.
"Yes, Jongin I did," Junmyeon chuckled.
"Good." Jongin loomed close, knifing smoothly into Junmyeon's personal space and Junmyeon let Jongin guide him backwards till his shoulders and upper back impacted with the smooth, hard edges of a mahogany book shelf. Caged between Jongin and a shelf full of Magical Realist novels, Junmyeon's heart beat ever more rapidly as Jongin shifted closer, overwhelming Junmyeon with his proximity and leaning his forehead in so it touched Junmyeon's again. His vision was filled with everything Jongin—his darkly beautiful face, his attractive cat ears, his simmering eyes, his beautiful, beautiful skin. Then Jongin moved closer still and his tongue slid into the moist cavern of Junmyeon's mouth and initiated an intimate dance with the other man's tongue while his luxuriant silver tail wrapped itself sensually around Junmyeon's right thigh. Junmyeon moaned as liquid heat shot to his groin and their hips pressed urgently against each other. Jongin's kiss burnt him with an intensity that devastated him, and his moans became louder still when Jongin nipped at his earlobe—licking and nibbling playfully at the sensitive skin while his hand stroked his erection through denim.
"Upstairs, we need to get upstairs." Junmyeon managed to say before things could spiral out of control.
"Your office is nearer," Jongin argued persuasively and dragged him there by the hand. Thankfully, the door wasn't locked so they didn't have to waste time fumbling with keys. Once inside, their mouths met passionately, breaths mingling and tongues tangling while their hands roamed everywhere. At some point, Junmyeon ended up sitting on the edge of his desk while Jongin pulled down his zipper tab, freed his cock and worked it over with his hot, hot mouth.
“Oh God,” Junmyeon gasped as Jongin’s tongue glided over him and his mouth closed tightly around his length, and moved over it in a sensual drag that had Junmyeon on the verge of falling apart. Again and again, Jongin took him in his mouth and the pressure of tongue against skin, and Jongin’s hands caressing his back and cupping his ass—it was almost too much pleasure to take and his fingers gripped the edges of desk in desperation as he tried to regain some measure of control
“Just let go, Junmyeon, just let go,” Jongin said huskily against his skin and that was all the push Junmyeon needed as he shuddered and climaxed, moaning Jongin's name. As the cat pulled him into a tight embrace, his lips pressed tenderly against Junmyeon’s, “I love you so much, please let me stay. Let me be your home.”
“Yes, Jongin, yes. I want you to be my home. Please stay,” Junmyeon pleaded as he kissed Jongin with a kind of wildness. As his hands fumbled with the buttons of Jongin’s jeans, Joonmyun dusted kisses on his beautiful collarbones and whispered, lips on skin, “Please stay.”